The Penobscot County Jail and Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office in Bangor are shown Nov. 14, 2018. Credit: Gabor Degre

Penobscot County commissioners are seeking bids for architectural and engineering design services for a new, 300-bed jail to be built in the parking lot near the current facility in downtown Bangor.

Commissioners voted 3-0 last week to place the advertisement for bids, County Administrator Bill Collins said Monday. The ad ran in the weekend edition of the Bangor Daily News.

Firms wanting to bid on designing the new jail, estimated to cost between $65 million and $70 million, are required to send a representative to a 9 a.m. meeting next Monday at the historic Penobscot County Courthouse at 97 Hammond St. in Bangor.

Bids are due May 20, according to Collins. The winning bid could be awarded the next day or the following week, he said.

The decision to seek design bids came two weeks after an ad hoc jail advisory committee recommended for the second time that the county build a new, 300-bed facility instead of a 150-bed addition to the current jail, which has capacity for 157 inmates but has been consistently overcrowded. The addition option was estimated to cost $20 million to $30 million, though a projection done for the county showed the addition option would cost $20 million more than the new, 300-bed option over the course of 30 years.

Before construction could begin on a new facility, Penobscot County voters would have to approve money for a bond issue, or commissioners would have to find another way to pay for it. The deadline for getting a bond issue on the Nov. 5 ballot this year is late July or early August, Collins said. Commissioners have yet to vote to put the 300-bed facility proposal before voters.

Commissioners did not immediately return a request for comment Monday morning.

The jail has been overcrowded for more than a decade. With an average daily population of about 190 during the past year, inmates have been sleeping in rooms designed for high school equivalency diploma, literacy and parenting programs. Another 40 to 50 inmates are boarded at facilities in other counties, and between 70 and 85 participate in a pre-trial release program.

A national expert on jail operations earlier this month said that jails have become treatment facilities because of a lack of mental health treatment in communities and the opioid crisis, even though they weren’t designed for that.

Carrie Hill, director of the National Center for Jail Operations in Alexandria, Virginia, was in Bangor on April 18 for the Maine Sheriffs Association’s annual conference.

“As we are looking at jails and building new facilities, jails are more and more having to consider the treatment aspect,” she said. “Questions that must be asked include: How are we providing beds for our mental health inmates? How are we providing beds to address substance abuse use?

Beds are no longer security beds.”

The working concept for the new facility is a four-story building with the first level containing a secure entrance, booking area, kitchen and beds for 48 inmates in the process of either being released or booked into the facility. Those areas would be larger than what’s needed for a 300-bed facility so that in 20 to 30 years, the county could more easily add a 120-bed addition to the back of the proposed facility.

The other floors would function as “mini-jails” with each floor having cells, recreation areas, rooms for programming and a control room for correctional officers. The second floor would house the medical clinic and 48 inmates with special needs. The third floor would house 192 male inmates, and the fourth floor would be a 60-bed unit for women.